A housing study in Barron County shows the city of Barron needs more than 170 homes and 118 apartment units built in order to meet the city’s housing demand.
The study is the latest effort to encourage development in order to help employers fill hundreds of jobs throughout the county.
In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Barron County Economic Development Corp. Director Dave Armstrong said county has had between 400 and 600 job openings over the past two years.
“So, then we started looking at what is the correlation between job openings and housing,” Armstrong said. “Well, there’s a huge correlation.”
Barron County — along with the cities of Barron, Chetek, Cameron, Rice Lake, Cumberland and Turtle Lake — worked with Armstrong’s office to commission a comprehensive county housing study. Over the past two years, the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has looked at U.S. Census data to get a better handle of what housing demand is in those cities.
The report is still being finalized but a “Housing Snapshot” of Barron shows the city had no vacant houses for sale as of July despite an anticipated need for 176 additional single-family homes by 2020. The study suggests an additional 118 apartment units will be needed.
“There hasn’t been a lot of new homes built here,” Armstrong said. “There hasn’t been a new apartment complex built in probably 20-25 years in Barron.”
Armstrong said a Barron County Economic Development Corp. survey of workers found those interested in buying homes preferred spending between $90,000 and $170,000.
“Can builders build a $150,000 house? Well, we found absolutely not with land costs,” Armstrong said. “So how do we take land costs out of the equation? Let’s think out of the box a little bit.”
Armstrong said city and county officials are discussing ways to make it easier for developers to build new subdivisions while keeping prices within the range of what most families are able to afford. One potential option, he said, is creating a loan program where funds used to buy property are repaid when houses are sold. The final housing study report, which is nearing completion, will include tools that local governments can use to spur development of affordable starter-homes.
The need for new housing priced for first-time homebuyers is not unique to Barron.
In Eau Claire, the City Council voted in July to spend $700,000 to encourage developers to build homes for first-time buyers and new apartment units for renters. Council members have discussed buying property for developers to build on or creating a revolving loan program for developers looking to purchase land.
Overall, Wisconsin had an inventory of 20,000 fewer homes for sale in June compared with housing data from June 2015, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association. In that four-year period the median price of homes in the state increased by 21 percent.